Pete Davidson has gotten a lot of mileage out of… being Pete Davidson. For eight seasons on SNL, Davidson was best known for playing himself in “Weekend Update” segments, providing both a running commentary on his life and reacting to the public’s perception of it. In 2020, Pete Davidson again essentially played himself in Judd Apatow’s King of Staten Island, a loosely autobiographical comedy about a guy whose firefighter father died on 9/11 and who does drugs and generally refuses to grow up.
In Bupkis, Pete Davidson plays Pete Davidson, a loosely autobiographical version of himself, famous for being on SNL, for having a big hoss in his pants, and for having a firefighter dad who died on 9/11 (amusingly, Edie Falco — who plays Davidson’s mom in Bupkis — once mentions that she was played by Marisa Tomei in the movie about Davidson’s life, King of Staten Island).
What’s peculiar about the stories about Davidson’s life is that they don’t spend much time on the thing for which Davidson is best known: His dating life. He’s dated Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale, Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber, Emily Ratajkowski, and Kim Kardashian, but these fictionalized versions of Davidison’s life always paint him as a Staten Island townie who spends all his time hanging with his boys. Celebrity encounters in Bupkis are mostly fleeting, while Davidson is depicted as a guy who masturbates in his mom’s basement instead of having sex with the lead in Bridgerton.
It’s not that Davidson’s Staten Island life isn’t interesting, it’s that he’s mining the same material (which he also uses in his stand-up act). Pete Davidson in Bupkis is 29, and Pete Davidson in King of Staten Island is in his mid-20s, and yet, both characters are basically playing the Pete Davidson that existed before Saturday Night Live. Davidson plays arrested development characters, but his creative life is likewise suspended in 2014.
What Davidson attempts in Bupkis is a cinematic comedy version of his life, something along the lines of Atlanta or Dave, but it lands somewhere closer to Entourage. Atlanta and Dave both manage to put their characters in absurd situations but the characters remain grounded, but whenever Davidson and his co-writers Judah Miller and Dave Sirus attempt to do so, Bupkis loses its footing. To wit, in the final season of Atlanta, Paper Boi gets caught up in a mass shooting in a mall and barely escapes with his life. It’s intense, and at some points, really weird, but it feels real enough that we can suspend our disbelief. In Bupkis, on the other hand, Pete Davidson and his crew end up in a Fast & Furious-like shoot-out where two people die and Davidson walks away. It feels more Wile E. Coyote than Dave.
There are a lot of over-the-top situations in Bupkis that don’t work, and for an eight-episode series that runs for fewer than four hours, there’s a lot of unfocused meandering, too. It’s a hangout comedy, but does anyone really want to hang out with Davidson or his scuzzy friends? It’s telling that the storylines about Davidson’s mom, Amy, or his grandfather (Joe Pesci) and uncle (Brad Garrett), are often the best and most poignant parts of the series because they often do not involve Davidson. Davidson, meanwhile, pays lip service to the childhood trauma he suffered after losing his dad but never fully excavates any of those feelings beyond saying, repeatedly over the course of the series, that he wants to kill himself.
Davidson has a fairly serious girlfriend, Nikki (Chase Sui Wonders), in the series, but very little time is spent with her. The series never gives us any insight into what Davidson might be like as a romantic partner, even though that is what he’s best known for and Bupkis is supposed to be autobiographical. It’s fine if Davidson doesn’t want to go there — although he had no problem doing so in his stand-up special — but replaying a lot of the same notes from Staten Island only with more celebrity cameos isn’t new or interesting. It’s like the guy who repeats the joke a second time only louder because he thinks no one heard him.
That’s not to say that Bupkis isn’t worth watching. There are some funny moments, though not necessarily the moment where Davidson cums on his mother. A few of those celebrity cameos are great, too: Jon Stewart, Al Gore, Ray Romano, Charlie Day, and John Mulaney are the best (with the latter basically working a stand-up bit into the series). It’s just that Davidson doesn’t have Hiro Murai to direct his episodes; he has a buddy he worked with on Big Time Adolescence, Jason Orley, who doesn’t have the same talent for setting a tone, a style, a vibe. When Hiro Murai makes a black-and-white episode, there’s a reason. When Pete Davidson makes a black-and-white episode, he wants you to think there’s a reason.
Bupkis isn’t bad. It’s fitfully entertaining — especially an episode that is basically a parody of his Suicide Squad experience — but it is decidedly not required viewing. There’s a reason Peacock dumped all eight episodes at once, and the reason is that the series wouldn’t be able to sustain viewer interest over six or seven weeks. It’s worth clicking “next episode” on, but it wouldn’t be worth seeking out once a week.
All episodes of ‘Bupkis’ are now available on Peacock.